GLAND, Switzerland – Global wildlife could plunge to a 67 per cent level of decline in just the fifty-year period ending this decade as a result of human activities, according to WWF’s Living Planet Report 2016. The report shows how people are overpowering the planet for the first time in Earth’s history and highlights the changes needed in the way society is fed and fuelled.
According to the report, global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles have already declined by 58 per cent between 1970 and 2012, the most recent year with available data. This places the world on a trajectory of a potential two-thirds decline within a span of the half-century ending in 2020.
Fortunately, 2020 is also a year of great promise. In that same year, commitments made under the Paris climate deal will kick in, and the first environmental actions under the globe’s new sustainable development plan are due. If implemented, these measures, along with meeting international biodiversity targets set for 2020, can help achieve the reforms needed in the world’s food and energy systems to protect wildlife across the globe.
“Wildlife is disappearing within our lifetimes at an unprecedented rate,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International. “This is not just about the wonderful species we all love; biodiversity forms the foundation of healthy forests, rivers and oceans. Take away species, and these ecosystems will collapse along with the clean air, water, food and climate services that they provide us. We have the tools to fix this problem and we need to start using them now if we are serious about preserving a living planet for our own survival and prosperity.”
The findings are based on long-term monitoring of some 3,700 vertebrate species spread across more than 14,000 distinct populations around the globe.
Scientists have tracked changes in the size of those populations, not how many species are threatened with extinction.
But the news on that front is not good either: experts now agree that Earth has entered only the sixth “mass extinction event”—when species vanish at least 1,000 times faster than usual—in the last half-billion years.
“Biodiversity forms the foundation of healthy forests, rivers and oceans. Take away the species, and these ecosystems collapse, along with clean air, water, food and climate services they provide us.”
A dawning awareness—in government, business and society as a whole—that a healthy environment is not a luxury but the “foundation of future human development” is reason for optimism, he suggested in an interview with AFP.
“This is really revolutionary,” he said, pointing to a global pact to rein in climate change going into force next week, and a newly launched set of UN-backed Sustainable Development Goals running through 2030.
“We have succeeded in making a strong business case for climate,” Lambertini said.
“Now we have to make an equally strong business case for conservation of natural systems.”
The five main drivers of wildlife decline—in order of importance—are habitat loss, overconsumption, pollution, invasive species and disease, according to the report.
On top of that, climate change is poised to become a major threat in the coming decades, with some animals already in decline due to rising temperatures and changing weather patterns.
“This should be a wake-up call to marshal efforts to promote the recovery of these populations,” said Ken Norris, director of science at the Zoological Society of London.
Freshwater environments such as lakes, rivers and wetlands have fared the worst, with an 81 percent decline in average population size between 1970 and 2012 for 881 species monitored.